Buckner, Robert (Henry) 1906-1989

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BUCKNER, Robert (Henry) 1906-1989

PERSONAL: Born May 28, 1906, in Crewe, VA; died August, 1989; son of Robert Henry and Inez Katherine (James) Buckner; married Mary Duckett Doyle, 1937; children: Robert Jr., Sharon Courtoux. Education: Attended Davidson College, 1923–24; University of Virginia, B.S., 1927; University of Edinburgh, M.A., 1928; studied medicine and science at École Polytechnique, Paris. Religion: Episcopalian.

CAREER: Screenwriter, journalist, and producer. New York World, London, England, newspaper correspondent, 1926–27; Belgian Mill Academy, England, instructor, 1927–28; Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, NY, salesperson, 1928–29; Doubleday, Doran Co., New York, NY, advertising manager, 1929–31; Charles Denhard Co., New York, NY, copywriter, 1931–34; freelance journalist in Russia and Scandinavia, 1934–35; Columbia Studios, contract writer, 1936–37; writer and producer for Warner Bros., 1937–47; and Universal-International Pictures, 1948–52. Also worked as a tour guide, English teacher, courier for a British exporting firm, publisher and partner in an advertising agency, 1936–37, and freelance war correspondent in Abyssinia. Producer of films, including Gentleman Jim, Warner Bros., 1942; Mission to Moscow, Warner Bros., 1943; Uncertain Glory, Warner Bros., 1944; God Is My Co-Pilot, Warner Bros., 1945; San Antonio, Warner Bros., 1945; Devotion, Warner Bros., 1946; Nobody Lives Forever, 1946; Cheyenne (also known as The Wyoming Kid), Warner Bros., 1947; and Life with Father, Warner Bros., 1947.

MEMBER: Pi Kappa Alpha.

AWARDS, HONORS: O'Brien Award for best American short story, 1936; Look Award for best American film, 1951; Screen Writers Guild Meltzer Award, and Golden Globe Award for best screenplay, both 1952, both for Bright Victory; Academy Award nomination, 1942, for Yankee Doodle Dandy.


Sigrid and the Sergeant, Appleton (New York, NY), 1958.

Tiger by the Tail, Heinemann (London, England), 1959.

Moon Pilot (Starfire), Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1961.

Yankee Doodle Dandy, edited by Patrick McGilligan, [Madison, WI], 1981.

Contributor to periodicals, including Atlantic Monthly, Bystander, Cosmopolitan, Harper's Bazaar, London Daily Mail, New Yorker, Pearson's, Punch, Redbook, Saturday Evening Post, and Saturday Review. Also author of the stage play "The Primrose Path," 1940. Also wrote one episode for the television series Bonanza, 1972.


Jezebel, Warner Bros., 1938.

(With Mark Hellinger) Comet over Broadway, Warner Bros., 1938.

(With Warren Duff) Gold Is Where You Find It, Warner Bros., 1938.

(With Clements Ripley, Michel Jacoby, and Lawrence Kimble) Love, Honor, and Behave, 1938.

(With Michael Fassier and Niven Busch) Angels Wash Their Faces, Warner Bros., 1939.

Dodge City, Warner Bros., 1939.

Espionage Agent, Warner Bros., 1939.

(With Warren Duff and Edward E. Paramore) The Oklahoma Kid, Warner Bros., 1939.

(With Don Ryan and Kenneth Gamet) You Can't Get Away with Murder, Warner Bros., 1939.

Knute Rockne—All American, Warner Bros., 1940.

(With Ivan Goff and Earl Baldwin) My Love Came Back, Warner Bros., 1940.

Santa Fe Trail, Warner Bros., 1940.

Virginia City, Warner Bros., 1940.

(With Frank Wead) Dive Bomber, Warner Bros., 1941.

(With Edmund Joseph) Yankee Doodle Dandy, Warner Bros., 1942.

(And producer) Desert Song, Warner Bros., 1944.

(And producer) Confidential Agent, Warner Bros., 1945.

(With Robert Florey; and producer) Rogue's Regiment, Universal, 1948.

(And producer) Free for All, Universal, 1949.

Sword in the Desert, Universal, 1949.

(And producer) Deported, Universal, 1950.

(And producer) Bright Victory (also known as "Lights Out"), Universal, 1951.

The Man behind the Gun, Warner Bros., 1952.

When in Rome, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1952.

(With John Paxton) A Prize of Gold, Columbia, 1955.

To Paris with Love, Continental, 1955.

(And producer) Love Me Tender, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1956.

(And producer) Safari, Columbia, 1956.

Triple Deption (also known as House of Secrets), Rank, 1957.

(And producer) From Hell to Texas (also known as The Hell-Bent Kid and Manhunt), Twentieth Century-Fox, 1958.

Moon Pilot, Buena Vista, 1961.

Return of the Gunfighter, 1967.

Bonanza: The Gold Mine, 1970.

Also author of screenplay titled "The Gang's All Here."


(And creator) Hong Kong (series), 1960–61.

(With Burt Kennedy) Return of the Gunfighter (series), NBC, 1967.

(With Richard Nelson) The Name of the Game (also known as The Suntan Mob), NBC, 1969.

SIDELIGHTS: Robert Buckner was best known as a screenwriter of western films. After graduating from the University of Virginia, he began his career as a journalist, first working as a London correspondent for the New York World, and then branching out as a freelance contributor to many different newspapers and magazines, including some in the USSR and Scandinavia. Once he established himself as a writer, Buckner experimented with fiction. He wrote a short story based on British naval officer Cecil Brandon's World War I experience titled "The Man Who Won the War" and submitted it to several publications for consideration. It was accepted and published by the Atlantic Monthly in 1936. Reader response to "The Man Who Won the War" topped that of any other story published in the Atlantic Monthly, and it earned Buckner an O'Brien Award for the best American short story of 1936. The story was subsequently printed in different publications before Columbia Pictures purchased it during the same year and contracted Buckner to write the screenplay. Though the movie never came into fruition, Buckner seized the opportunity to explore a new writing genre: screenwriting.

Warner Brothers hired Buckner as a writer in 1937. His first major project was a collaboration with Warren B. Duff to adapt Clements Ripley's novel, Gold Is Where You Find It. Set in California's Sacramento Valley in 1877, the movie begins during California's second big gold rush. The struggle between enterpris-ing miners and struggling farmers in this area quickly becomes clear as the main characters are introduced. Chris Ferris (played by Claude Rains) leads the farmers in a social rebellion against the miners, who have destroyed the area's farmlands in their pursuit of gold. Jared Whitney (George Brent) is a young engineer who used to farm, but joined the mining company after obtaining a college degree. The two characters portray the timeless struggle between good and evil, with the miners depicted on the darker side. To complicate an already explosive situation, Jared falls in love with Chris's daughter, Serena (Olivia de Havilland). The movie was a great success. Though criticizing director Michael Curtiz, Dennis Schwarz in Ozus' World Movie Reviews Online admitted that Gold Is Where You Find It is "an interesting film because the historical background to this economic struggle is given a human face," and added that the film "has more weight than the usual western." The movie's larger-than-life stars, thickly-layered plot, and appealing western setting created a stir and earned Buckner recognition as a talented screenwriter.

After the success of his first western, Buckner wrote many more genre films for Warner Brothers, all of which were directed by Michael Curtiz, including Dodge City, The Oklahoma Kid, Virginia City, and Santa Fe Trail. Dodge City again stars de Havilland, this time opposite Errol Flynn, who plays a cattle buyer named Wade Hatton. When Hatton comes to Dodge City to make trouble, Abbie Irving (de Haviland) accuses him of killing her brother, and the rest of the movie shows Hatton trying to prove otherwise. Critic Lisa Skrzyniarz, writingin Crazy4Cinema.com, concluded that the movie is "not the most original film, but everyone put forth a solid effort to bring this tale of the burgeoning West onto the big screen."

The Oklahoma Kid was cowritten with Duff and Edward Paramore. In this script, father and son John (Hugh Sothern) and Ned Kincaid (Harvey Stephens) travel to a pre-Tulsa town and attempt to settle down. They soon notice that saloon owner Whip McCord (Humphrey Bogart) has infiltrated the town with drinking and gambling. In an attempt to restore the town's dignity, John runs for mayor and his son runs for sheriff. Whip frames John, who is thrown in jail and lynched, after which a mysterious stranger comes into town. The stranger is Jim Kincaid, John's second son and the Oklahoma Kid. Much action follows, which is why reviewer Erik Lundegaard labeled it "a solid, fun western."

Virginia City was written by Buckner, Howard Koch, and Norman Reilly Raine as a sequel to Dodge City. This post-Civil War movie stars Errol Flynn as Captain Kerry Bradford, a Union soldier escaped from a Confederate prison and now in pursuit of southern sympathizers smuggling five million dollar's worth of gold from Nevada into Virginia City. Humphrey Bogart also appears in this movie, this time as a Mexican outlaw mercenary. Buckner and his team were not finished writing the script when the filming started, which angered Flynn and became the catalyst for other conflicts between cast and crew.

Santa Fe Trail is based on the biography of Confederate general J. E. B. Stuart (Flynn). Unlike Virginia City, this film takes place before the Civil War and follows events leading up to that war. The movie begins at West Point and highlights the friendship between Stuart and future Confederate general George Armstrong Custer (Ronald Reagan). Then the the story follows Stuart's rivalry with Carl Rader (Van Heflin) and John Brown's abolitionist uprising in Kansas.

Western films were not the only genre Buckner was skilled at scripting; he also wrote dramas, crime dramas, war films, comedies, and musicals. His two most famous comedies written for Warner Brothers are Love, Honour, and Behave and Yankee Doodle Dandy. Love, Honour, and Behave, directed by Stanley Logan, is a comedy about family, relationships, and submission. Comedic musical Yankee Doodle Dandy, which tells the life of entertainer George M. Cohen, earned eight Academy Award nominations, including one for best original story. James Cagney earned an Academy Award for best actor in the lead role and, more importantly, earned the respect of the subject himself.

In 1942 Buckner began producing films as well as writing screenplays. His first role as producer came with Gentleman Jim, and was followed by many others. When Buckner left Warner Brothers and joined Universal-International Pictures in 1948, he began to both write and produce films, beginning with Rogues' Regiment in 1948. His 1951 film Bright Victory stars Arthur Kennedy as Larry Nevins, a blind World War II veteran struggling to deal with his new condition. Larry recuperates in a hospital with the help of nurse Judy Greene (Peggy Dow). When he returns home, he must face his friends and family, who have trouble adjusting to the changed man they once knew. Buckner and cowriter Baynard Kendrick received both a Screen Writers Guild Meltzer Award and a Golden Globe Award in 1952 for this film. Among Buckner's other Universal films were Free for All and Deported.

From 1952 onward, Buckner wrote freelance screenplays, which he sold to Warner Brothers, Columbia, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Continental, Buena Vista, Disney, and Twentieth Century-Fox. These movies include the 1956 crime drama Triple Deception, involving a gang of gold smugglers; the 1958 western From Hell to Texas about a fugitive on the run after an accidental murder; the 1962 science-fiction comedy Moon Pilot, about a romance between an astronaut and an alien; Return of the Gunfighter, the 1967 western including an early depiction of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; and Bonanza: The Gold Mine, the story of a beaten-down youth who discovers vast amounts of gold.

Buckner also wrote for television and published novels. Return of the Gunfighter was turned into a television series in 1967. His published novels include Sigrid and the Sergeant, Tiger by the Tail, Moon Pilot, and Yankee Doodle Dandy. Buckner passed away in August of 1989 at the age of eighty-three.



Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 26: American Screenwriters, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984, pp. 66-70.

International Dictionary of Film and Filmmakers, Volume 4: Writers and Production Artists, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1993, pp. 125-126.


Presence du Cinema, June, 1962.


Chicago Sun Times Online, http://www.suntimes.com/ (November 5, 2003), Roger Ebert, review of "Yankee Doodle Dandy."

Crazy4Cinema.com, http://www.crazy4cinema.com/ (November 5, 2003), Lisa Skrzyniarz, review of Dodge City.

Movies.com, http://movies.go.com/ (October 17, 2003), "Filmography: Robert Buckner."

Ozus' World Movie Reviews Online, http://www.sover.net/∼ozus/ (November 5, 2003), "Michael Curtiz Directs a Western That Is Almost of Epic Proportions."

PictureGoer.com, http://www.picturegoer.com/ (November 5, 2003), "Joan Leslie Page: Yankee Doodle Dandy."

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Buckner, Robert (Henry) 1906-1989

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